Adam C. Zern opines on Karen Russell's Swamplandia!:
"It's the same old story. I hear of a supposed new modern classic by a new talented and exceptional author. I decide to take a chance and use my precious book buying dollars to give it a read, and I end up turning the last moribund page with a sag in my shoulders and a shake of my head.
I wanted to love Swamplandia! I really did. The initial 50 pages of the book are excellent, so things got off to a promising start. Mood, tenor, themes, characters—it's filled with all of the right ingredients. And for a book that is so much about souls, sacrifice, and family, it felt surprisingly soulless to me. There were various times in which I could see the author taking the story in one of several directions, and she always seemed to take it in a direction I didn't want it to go. Clearly this is an extremely subjective criticism, but I'm the reader and am willing to embrace my subjectivity. Karen Russell is a fine writer, but I didn't care for her story. (Not to mention I think she takes one too many shortcuts in terms of plot details, almost like she was saying—"oh, yeah, I forgot to mention!").
I will mention that the State of Florida is an absolutely wonderful place to set a story. It's natural environments and even its cultural scenery is filled with magic and mystery. Many people come to Florida to make believe, and Karen Russell does a wonderful job in exploiting symbols of Florida, cultural and natural, to elevate her story. She really did take full advantage of her setting, and it allows for Swamplandia!'s more interesting elements, such as when you're trying to discern whether or not the story's more fantastical elements are real or a fiction. You feel in many ways what the main character, Ava, feels.
I wouldn't recommend Swamplandia! Its virtues don't outweigh its weaknesses in my mind. I was hoping for more, but this just wasn't the story I wanted to read."